A notorious loyalist parade passed off peacefully on Friday night, June 20th, as thousands of Orange men and their supporters took part in the annual ‘Tour of the North’ parade in Belfast, which passed a flashpoint at St Patrick’s Catholic Church.
Unionist politicians also marched behind bandsmen who largely adhered to a Parades Commission determination to only play a single drumbeat outside St Patrick’s, which has been the focus of violence in the past.
A large group of loyalists gathered at the bottom of Donegall Street to watch the parade while two separate nationalist protests against the parade also took place.
The commission’s ruling that bands should only play either hymns or a single drumbeat past the church was made late on Thursday. The Orange Order had already agreed that all bands taking part in six contentious parades for the remainder of the 2014 marching season would play only hymns while passing the Donegall Street church.
The ‘Tour of the North’ was also again refused permission to pass an interface at Ardoyne in north Belfast. Loyalists have been protesting at Twaddell Avenue since July, following a decision to restrict an Orange Order parade from marching past nationalist homes on the Crumlin Road.
Heavy unionist political pressure to allow a march through Ardoyne has continued with the TUV, DUP, UUP as well as representatives from loyalist paramilitary groups joining together for a high-profile meeting with the Parades Commission.
The group of politicians, including TUV leader Jom Allister, DUP leader Peter Robinson, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt and representatives from the PUP and the UPRG, also met incoming PSNI Chief George Hamilton.
A DUP spokesman said he hoped the Parades Commission “stands firm against the continuing threat of republican violence” and does not allow itself to be “bullied” into unfair determinations.
Meanwhile, in Portadown, a nationalist residents’ group has hit out at a decision by the commission to allow an Orange march to pass along a stretch of the lower Garvaghy Road next Saturday.
A spokesman from the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition said the march was an “entirely new” event and called on the commission to change its decision to allow it. He said the march coincided with the putting up of an Orange arch and other loyalist bunting in the area, which in previous years had led to serious disorder and arrests.